Going Global: Spanning the digital universe

Three Profero regional heads on the opportunities and challenges facing brands and agencies.

- The world is now, metaphorically, smaller than ever. What does this changing landscape mean for brands and agencies?

Arnold: At even the most basic level, ideas can be influenced by almost any global culture. Today's consumer no longer exists within traditional, easily defined demographic or geographical boundaries. So brands need to have agency presence in, and a cultural understanding of, the most exciting economic and social markets.

Fiandaca: Absolutely. Global brands must have an agency operating as a single team, structured to share inspiration across markets. Great ideas and concepts are great ideas and concepts everywhere, but where a global agency can generate true value is by adding an additional layer of local insight that enhances that concept. The importance of local identity, and the understanding of it, plus brands' ability to adapt to these identities, will be the key to success.

Xu: Speak local, think global. With emerging technologies and growing consumer confidence, through greater access to information, markets are becoming increasingly fragmented. So, as the world becomes smaller, and less straightforward, the number of niche audiences increases. Brands expect their agencies to inform them of every nuance, however small, and this demands a collaborative effort.

Arnold: In the US, the lack of pure digital talent provides our greatest challenge, so the advantages of a truly global team are multiplied. Agencies must think beyond their four walls, casting globally rather than locally, to provide genuine insight and competitive advantage.

Fiandaca: The capacity to decode those insights and create a coherent and effective strategy will mark out brands.

Xu: People living in Shanghai may have far more in common with New Yorkers than people living 100km down the road, so the challenge is to join the dots effectively, adding value to both brand and consumer. Digital interaction makes consumer experiences more personal than collective and so the idea of brands creating "one-size-fits-all" strategies is redundant. Understanding and utilising local "languages" that resonate more deeply will reap greater rewards.

- How has the changing economic climate affected brand attitudes to digital marketing?

Arnold: Right now, in the US, the impact is difficult to detect, but with market investment still behind consumer habits, digital's level of accountability is a huge positive. Especially when benchmarked against other media.

Fiandaca: Definitely. There is no doubt that accountability will work in digital's favour.

Arnold: Consumers are spending more time and money on digital, and are making a greater emotional investment in it. So, they are moving away from traditional platforms in larger numbers.

Xu: Yes, and with brands becoming increasingly sensitive to ROI and demanding more targeted communication strategies, with improved optimisation and tighter measurement metrics, digital's accountability will mean a more central role in more ROI-focused global marketing.

Arnold: Advertising has always been about putting the right message in front of the right people at the right time, and nothing does this to greater effect than interactive marketing.

Fiandaca: But we can't forget that digital's true value - not simply accountability, but the ability to create dialogue with consumers - is inherent, despite the recession. We will come out of any downturn stronger, but this should not obscure the basic advantages of interactive communication.

- What, if any, are the challenges facing different regions in bringing media and creative closer together?

Fiandaca: Europe is united in its division, with media agencies dominating the landscape and creative houses playing second fiddle. The challenge is to educate brands on the real impact of creativity in digital and the value of tailoring it to a diverse range of audiences, in a variety of markets and with a wide variety of cultural sensibilities.

Xu: Both brands and agencies in Asia must begin to understand, and implement, the fundamental advantages of media and creative integration.

Arnold: In many ways, the US digital market is an antiquated one, too. Even today, creative sits on the left, media on the right, with a chasm running between the two. With the size of the market exaggerating this divide, brands and agencies face the challenge of creating a coherent media and creative strategy. This is in many ways a greater challenge than that faced in more culturally diverse regions.

Fiandaca: If creative continues to be regarded as a by-product of media, then the full potential of truly global, internet marketing will not be realised.

Xu: In Asia, brands still tend to operate separately across the two disciplines; with creative "sweeteners" often thrown in to ease media deals. This not only negates the benefits of a cohesive strategy, but also devalues the wider digital creative market.

- What in digital will have the biggest impact on global brands over the next 12-24 months?

Fiandaca: Social media. The conversations that it facilitates and the ability of brands to engage with consumers on a one-to-one level means that any advertiser not embracing it will eventually lose advantage.

Xu: Absolutely. Although, in Asia, we don't differentiate "social" media, it is simply "media", and brands here respond to that. Brands underestimating or not taking the shift in communication to two-way dialogues seriously will find themselves behind the curve. Catching up will become harder as the pace of change intensifies.

Arnold: I agree. Social marketing is fundamental, but in the US, mobile evolution will also have a huge impact. The iPhone has been a game-changer and where we once spoke about mobile advertising in cynical tones, we now know the future lies in delivery of genuinely useful mobile content. Add in video on demand and how this will affect programme funding, and we are going to see a very deliberate ground shift in brand attitudes to digital.

Fiandaca: There will be a shift eastward and a significant growth in the dominance of Eastern brands. Brands unencumbered by traditional Western business models, and with the ability to adapt to this shift, will prosper. A fundamental change in marketing strategies, driven by Asia and social media, means we'll see a fading-out of old brand habits and agencies moving their main hubs east. As digital natives in the West get older, social media will have a massive impact on brands. Not having that presence and local insight during this shift will prove costly.

- Daniele Fiandaca is the European chief executive, Wayne Arnold is the co-founder and chief executive North America, and Xu Rui is the regional director Asia of Profero.